The Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism (RFLP) Analysis

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RFLP analysis can be used to differentiate DNA sequences. In this example, a normal chromosome is digested into two fragments, whereas digestion of a mutated chromosome produces only one fragment. The small red arrows pointing to the two different chromosome segments show the locations of the restriction enzyme recognition sites. After digestion and agarose gel electrophoresis, the banding patterns reflect the change by showing the loss of two shorter bands and the gain of a longer band. (credit: modification of work by National Center for Biotechnology Information)

OpenStax Microbiology

Restriction enzyme recognition sites are short (only a few nucleotides long), sequence-specific palindromes, and may be found throughout the genome. Thus, differences in DNA sequences in the genomes of individuals will lead to differences in distribution of restriction-enzyme recognition sites that can be visualized as distinct banding patterns on a gel after agarose gel electrophoresis. Restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) analysis compares DNA banding patterns of different DNA samples after restriction digestion.

RFLP analysis has many practical applications in both medicine and forensic science. For example, epidemiologists use RFLP analysis to track and identify the source of specific microorganisms implicated in outbreaks of food poisoning or certain infectious diseases. RFLP analysis can also be used on human DNA to determine inheritance patterns of chromosomes with variant genes, including those associated with heritable diseases or to establish paternity.

Forensic scientists use RFLP analysis as a form of DNA fingerprinting, which is useful for analyzing DNA obtained from crime scenes, suspects, and victims. DNA samples are collected, the numbers of copies of the sample DNA molecules are increased using PCR, and then subjected to restriction enzyme digestion and agarose gel electrophoresis to generate specific banding patterns. By comparing the banding patterns of samples collected from the crime scene against those collected from suspects or victims, investigators can definitively determine whether DNA evidence collected at the scene was left behind by suspects or victims.


Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at:


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